If you are looking for new employment opportunities, making connections is critical to your success. However, networking means walking into a crowded room of strangers and engaging them in conversation. As an introvert, I can certainly list numerous other activities more appealing than a networking event, none of them particularly pleasant. If you find yourself in a similar situation, read on for some tips and ideas to help you re-focus your energy and hone your networking skills.
Before the Event – Build Your Confidence
Consider Timing: If you find networking to be an energy-draining activity, it’s important to identify particular times of day and days of the week where you will have the most energy to network successfully. This is especially critical for your first networking event. For instance, I have learned that I shouldn’t bother attending any networking meeting that runs later than 9:00 p.m. because I won’t have the energy to participate fully.
Visualize: Introverts by nature are introspective. Use that! Take a reflective moment to visualize the networking event before you step foot in the room. What will the room look like as you walk in? Will you choose the food table or the bar first? Where will you stand or sit? Planning your strategy in advance will give you the confidence to execute when you walk in the door.
Practice your Elevator Pitch: Similar to visualization, it’s important to rehearse what you will say prior to attending a networking event. How will you introduce yourself when asked? How will you spark up a conversation? Practicing some of these in front of a mirror will help you feel more comfortable and confident in the moment.
Set a Goal: Setting a goal offers you both a challenge and a distraction as you navigate the room. Perhaps your goal can be to distribute five business cards or talk to three new people. Make the goal realistic so that you can space out these conversations throughout the event and not feel pressured nor rushed.
Plan for Relaxation Time: Participating in large social gatherings as an introvert can be draining emotionally and physically. Plan to take a few moments both before and after the meeting to recharge, whether it be an afternoon escape, or simply a cup of tea on your own.
At the Event – Breaking the Ice
First and foremost, remember that each and every person in that room is there for the same reason – to meet new people. Statistically, nearly half of them are also introverts. As you survey the room and participants, find a spot that looks comfortable near another “lone wolf” and allow yourself a few moments to acclimate before diving in.
Have you ever tried to fake a smile, only to realize that before too long you were actually smiling? Even if you feel uncomfortable, consciously position your body in an open stance so that you will seem approachable and can settle into the rhythm of the room. I have found it most helpful to always have a beverage in hand so that I resist the urge to cross my arms.
As an introverted networker, my strategy at the event is to be a resource to the people in the room. As I meet new people, I help them to make important connections. I discuss articles and resources relevant to their profession and that I think will be helpful. I actually spend very little time talking about myself, instead preferring to allow others to steer the conversation. One of my fellow introverts, without fail, starts with a compliment to “warm up” the conversation. Find a strategy that works for you, and don’t be afraid to use it over and over again.
Possible Ice Breakers
- Introduce yourself (Elevator Pitch)
- Compliment them
- Ask about them
- Ask for advice
- Talk about headlines
- Comment on location/food/speaker
After the Event – Recap and Plan for Next Time
First of all, congratulate yourself for a job well done! Then, within the first 24-48 hours after a meeting, it’s important to reinforce the connection by inviting attendees to connect with you on LinkedIn.
Ensure that you maintain regular contact, sending interesting articles or mentioning upcoming networking events. Networks are built one person at a time, and need continual nurturing to be most effective.
Finally, it’s important to note that networking is a learned skill and one that is perfected with repetition. Even as an introvert, you can develop successful strategies to help you navigate these social situations with relative ease.